Book Review: "Imaginative Apologetics"

Imaginative Apologetics: Theology, Philosophy and the Catholic Tradition
Foreword by John Milbank
Andrew Davison (editor)
Baker Academic
6030 East Fulton Road
Ada, MI 49301
ISBN-978-0-8010-3981-2; $25.00; 2012.
Reviewed by Rev. Dr. Michael Philliber for Deus Misereatur (3/13)

Approaching Apologetics (4 stars out of 5)

After having completed reading a rather tedious book written by some over-the-top Atheists, I was quite delighted to receive a copy of “Imaginative Apologetics: Theology, Philosophy and the Catholic Tradition”. In this 198 page paperback edited by Andrew Davison, he and his co-writers have pulled their heads, and keyboards, together to produce a useful little resource.

The book begins with an intriguing foreword by theologian John Milbank, who defines the apologetic endeavor as part of the ongoing contestation between Christ and Caesar; simultaneously defending the faith and defending “a true politics of civic virtue” (xxii). It then moves on to the introduction by the editor, who succinctly elaborates that Christian apologetics is reasonable, and that reason includes both intellect and desire. Christian apologetics should address both, thus embracing “the whole of human reason and” take “an expansive view of what it means to be a human being” (xxviii). With the foreword and introduction out of the way, “Imaginative Apologetics” breaks out into four sections with two or three chapters falling under each heading.

John Hughes starts out the section titled “Faith and Reason Reconsidered” by addressing how apologetics over the past several centuries has allowed itself to drink from the well of rationalism, and chronicles the damaging consequences. Hughes asserts, and rightly, that if an apologist can prove God exists on the basis of reason alone, he has made reason the “ultimate foundation and thus the real object of worship” (7). Instead, the apologist ought to recognize that we humans are embodied creatures who are more than unalloyed intelligence. Apologetics should also include goodness and beauty. Andrew Davison, the editor, weighs in by taking Hughes’s points further: everyone engages reality from prior conceptions. Atheists cannot claim the neutral-reason-alone high ground, because everyone interprets life from a working hypothesis of reality. Davison works his way from there, through a friendly critique of Scott Hahn’s apologetic approach, to the value of a Christian community, because “Christian rationality is inseparable from Christian disciplines” (28). The point of the chapter appears to be that apologetics is not only argument, but equally an invitation to come, “taste and see” how to live and think from a different set of presuppositions and practices.

The next unit looks into “Christian Apologetics and the Human imagination”. Allison Milbank starts by pointing out the notable two-fold undertaking in imaginative apologetics: to awaken “homesickness” in others, and foster the restoration of a vision for the “lost beauty of the world” (44). Next, Donna Lazenby leads the reader on a trek through 2 genres of literature: New Atheist fictions, and Vampire narratives. With the first, she perceptively deciphers some of the ways literature has become “weaponized” (48) by the New Atheists. And with the next, Lazenby insightfully decodes the unanswered yearnings in the popular Twilight saga. Finally, Michael Ward steers the way through C.S. Lewis’s beautiful use of imagination in apologetics. Here, Ward knowledgably displays the roles imagination, reason and will played out for Lewis, “…imagination, which is good, serves reason, which is better, and both serve the will, which is best of all” (74). This whole unit was quite a pleasure to read, and has spawned some personal reflection.

“Imaginative Apologetics” then moves on to address “Being Imaginative about Christian Apologetics.” Stephen Bullivant uses the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes as his springboard, and chisels out an observant piece, describing various forms of Atheism, diagnosing assorted reasons for the rise of Atheism, and a two-part proposed remedy. According to the author, the remedy he is advising is not necessarily surefire, but will add credibility to the apologetic task, as well as help stem the growing social indifference that is pronounced in the UK and Western Europe (the same kind of indifference that looks to be on the rise in the USA). In the next chapter, Craig Hovey goes further with one part of Bullivant’s recommended solution: ethics. Here Hovey builds a pithy rationale for the church being reclaimed by the moral life, and the way it validates apologetics; “Put starkly, if Christians cannot point to Christianity’s goodness, they should refrain from claiming that, despite all appearances to the contrary, it really is quite true” (110). Hovey’s chapter has some excellent intuitions on this subject.

The final portion of the book focuses on “Situating Christian Apologetics.” To start off in this topic, Graham Ward enters and asserts that an important part of apologetics is cultural critique, what he denominates as “interpretive engagement” (123). He gives examples of the way this is done well, and why it is indispensable. With the succeeding chapter, Richard Conrad OP, gives a brief survey of the apologetic approaches taken up throughout the centuries. He races through early church theologians and pastors and then slows down a bit to pay attention to medieval and modern Catholic apologists. In the last chapter, Alister E. McGrath attentively untangles the sticky competition between Science and Religion, identifying some of the root causes. McGrath masterfully deals with his subject, easily, guiding the reader to a richer understanding of the situation, while facilitating a clear-headed way for Christian apologists to appreciate science. The author gave me some much needed insight into distinguishing the difference between science and scientism.

“Imaginative Apologetics” has much going in its favor. One aspect that may be off-putting to some is that all of the writers are either Catholic-Minded Anglicans, or Roman Catholic (xxvii). The liturgical references, and a few other peculiarities that show their Catholic-Mindedness may cause most Protestant readers to scratch their heads, but they are not insurmountable. Secondly, the book needs to be read, and judged, as a whole. There are some wonderful firework displays in the book, but most of the material is rather unadorned. Nevertheless, taken all together this is a solid piece of work that will stimulate thoughtful reflection, and aid those Christians who are actively engaged in apologetics, and those who get accidentally engaged. I soundly recommend “Imaginative Apologetics”.

{A copy of the book was generously supplied by the publisher}


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